Pandemic Pushed Me to Break Through All Stereotypes: Rahul Deshmukh, Allana Group 1055

Rahul-Deshmukh–Group-CHRO–Allana-Group

Rahul Deshmukh, Group CHRO, Allana Group

The increased importance to HR as a business function is primarily due to lessons learnt and actions taken with the ideology to “be human” and with a thought that the very essence of “HR” is to be “human”. At Allana, they have successfully percolated this value to their entire leadership team, which in turn has enabled them to form deep and meaningful human relations with their team members.

Covid-19 has been an eye-opener for people and organisations worldwide. In the past two years, we have witnessed our established ways of working being challenged at every given point in time. The need to be flexible and nimble-footed both, in our thinking and working patterns has now become a norm.

After the first wave of Covid-19 that took away most of the year 2020, in early 2021 things were looking to move back to normal. Businesses were limping back to normalcy, domestic travel had commenced albeit slowly, offices and local transport in cities and towns were slowly normalising too. However, the situation changed drastically in end-March 2021. The dreadful “Second Wave” with the Delta strain of the virus turned everything back to a lockdown mode we had witnessed in 2020.

This second wave confronted HR with an unprecedented situation…a tight rope walk, indeed! With businesses just getting the whiff of normalcy, again being pushed back to a shutdown mode, built a strong expectation to support maintaining business continuity from the HR function. Challenge was to do that while ensuring the complete safety of our employees.

As they say, challenges sure are to arise in every business and every job however, it’s the balance-building role that makes HR one of the most demanding corporate functions and it was proven during this second wave.

With a massive spread of infections around, acute vaccine shortages being experienced, HR professionals were faced with the difficult task of ensuring all possible human support to Covid-19 contracted employees and their families, while providing preventive care through vaccine facilitation to its employees as well. The function, however, was swift to respond to this build-up and we could see this successfully happening across multiple organisations.

Amidst this uncertainty with the pandemic, continuing to peak in some geographies and retracting in others, created huge disruptions in businesses across. The smaller businesses again got impacted the most, driving closure of operations, financial losses, pay cuts, and unemployment.

For us at Allana, predominantly dealing in Food & Agri exports, careful handling of our business priorities like raw material procurement, sales/production planning, supply chain/logistics, etc helped. However, the need was extremely sensitive when it came to the human resources side. We realised that re-strengthening the employee trust, that we had gradually built after the first wave, was needed, and that too with a renewed focus on employee health and well-being. The need to rekindle our philosophy to be “human” was strongly felt. Striking the right balance between business operation continuity and employee safety & well-being posed a lot of stress on our HR function, not to mention our employees’ shift in revaluating their priorities in terms of balancing professional and personal life.

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However, we successfully treaded over the challenges, with our key learning being that Covid is here to stay and we got to learn to live with it! Businesses need to run, to fuel growth/progress and support overall employee well-being. Getting vaccinated, strictly following the protocols, and ensuring early treatment if doomsday happens, are the only ways to ensure a successful balance.

As far as business is concerned, we realised that it’s a must to navigate financial and operational challenges posed by Covid while rapidly addressing the needs of our people, customers, and suppliers globally. Moreover, the HR function must be prepared for the unexpected, encouraging collaboration, and building a healthy workplace, with a renewed focus on work-life balance.

“As far as business is concerned, we realised that it’s a must to navigate financial and operational challenges posed by Covid while rapidly addressing the needs of our people, customers, and suppliers globally. Moreover, the HR function must be prepared for the unexpected, encouraging collaboration, and building a healthy workplace, with a renewed focus on work-life balance.”

At Allana, the HR function went through a huge transformation and is now seen and perceived as a vital part of not only human resources strategy but business strategy as well. The team has demonstrated remarkable agility and resilience through lessons learnt during the first wave of the pandemic and responded to the crisis by ensuring not only workforce safety but also kept them motivated and engaged along with effectively supporting and managing continuity of business operations with greater zeal during the second wave.

Various steps that were taken to address the “human” aspect during pandemic included continuous communication on strict adherence to Covid-19 protocols without letting the guard slip-on safety, sponsoring numerous employee vaccination camps across our locations within the country, in coordination with local authorities and private medical service providers along with information seminars to curtail vaccination inhibitions. Along with preventive initiatives we also supported through paid leaves to those employees who had post-vaccination health issues and through in-house Covid care facilities in many cases along with local tie-ups with hospitals for priority admission. We also provided financial support, on a case-to-case basis, to the families of those employees who had unfortunate deaths due to Covid and this was not only limited to our full-time employees but covered our contractual employee base as well. Not to mention this was over and above the insurance coverages.

Allana has always been proactive when it comes to retaining talent. This is evident from our single-digit attrition percentage over so many years. The same has been possible only because of the belief we have imbibed in our values and culture that, only material benefits aren’t a deciding factor for an employee’s decision to stay or quit, it’s the overall experience of trust, respect, and being human, that’s what matters.

We strongly believe that the increased importance to HR as a business function is primarily due to lessons learnt and actions taken with the ideology to “be human” and with a thought that the very essence of “HR” is to be “human”. We have successfully percolated this value to our entire leadership team, which in turn has enabled us to form deep and meaningful human relations with our team members.

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These past two turbulent years have changed the way we think, work, live, and operate – in every sense of the word!

As an HR leader for this large multi-business conglomerate, the pandemic pushed me to break through all stereotypes. Moving out of traditional ways of working, we adapted quickly to remote working style; broadening our network; learning, relearning, and finding new ways to connect with our people. We learned that it’s important to have humility, agility to act quickly, and be open to new ideas and innovation. When we say our ideology is to “be human”, we have redefined the “human” aspect of “HR” at Allana. This means all our focus is now on how we can make a meaningful difference in our employee’s life and ensure that it’s very critical to have HR processes and initiatives aligned with human engagement outcomes. Our efforts in 2022 are being built to focus ondeveloping a ‘trust-based culture’ in our organisation.

In 2021, we kicked off with launching “Allana Connect” – an internal communication platform that not only connects and engages employees by keeping them updated about all the happenings within our organisation in a transparent way, but also helps them to develop a sense of ownership and camaraderie thus getting rid of workplace loneliness.

Another program we launched is “APEx” (Allana Performance Excellence) – a performance excellence framework that provides comprehensive support and guidance for excelling in one’s role. As it has been said, “Listening is important but, more important is to act on the things listened to.” We, at Allana, have ensured this through a continuous feed-forward mechanism built within the overall APEx framework, as well.

Allana 5-Star”, a robust orientation and onboarding framework was also conceived with the thought process of giving new joiners a joining-in and settling-down experience at the workplace that they will never forget.

We have reworked our HR policies to make them more employee-centric and future-forward, while still working on building our Talent Management, Talent Rotation & Reward Recognition models. A host of “human” initiatives are being worked on with a clear focus on Employee Wellness under our program titled, “Awe” (Allana Wellness). And all this while not slipping out on our legacy of being a Responsible Corporate Entity through our focus on complete compliance.

In these two years, I have realized one thing, while we live by our legacy, we need to also swiftly adapt and institutionalise the new age trends in order to successfully face the opportunities and challenges. However, while doing this, we need not overthink and it need not be complicated.

Just, keep it simple!

Yes, it does require mindful behaviour but genuine trust, empathy, discipline, emotional connect, support, collaboration, clarity, compliance, and most importantly, just being “human” should help us all sail through these tough times.

Rahul-Deshmukh–Group-CHRO–Allana-Group (1)

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Rahul comes with over 22 years of professional experience working in world-class organisations like Glenmark Pharmaceuticals, Stanley Black & Decker Inc, and Marico Ltd. Today he leads the entire gamut of HR for all business verticals and group functions in India for the Allana Group.

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